top of page

History of Journalism: The When and How of Journalism

Journalism is the gathering, organizing, and distribution of news -- to include feature stories and commentary -- through the wide variety of print and non-print media outlets. It is not a recent phenomenon, by any means; the earliest reference to a journalistic product comes from Rome circa 59 B.C. when the news was recorded in a circular called the Acta Diurna. It enjoyed daily publication and was hung strategically throughout the city for all to read, or for those who were able to read.

During the Tang dynasty, from 618 A.D. to 907 A.D., China prepared a court report, then named a bao, to distribute to government officials for the purpose of keeping them informed of relevant events. It continued afterward in a variety of forms and names until the end of 1911, and the demise of the Qing dynasty. However, the first indication of a regular news publication can be traced to Germany, 1609, and the initial paper published in the English language (albeit "old English") was the newspaper known as the Weekly Newes from 1622. The Daily Courant, however, first appearing in 1702, was the first daily paper for public consumption.

It should come as no surprise that these earliest forays into keeping the public informed were met with government opposition in many cases. They attempted to impose censorship by placing restrictions and taxes on publishers as a way to curb freedom of the press. But literacy among the population, as a whole, was growing and because of this, along with the introduction of technology that improved printing and circulation, newspaper publications saw their numbers explode; and even though there remain pockets of news censorship around the world today, for the most part, journalistic freedom reigns.

Soon after newspapers got a foothold, the creation of the magazine became widespread as well. Its earliest form was such aptly named periodicals as the Tattler and Spectator. Both were initial attempts to marry articles of opinions with current events, and by the 1830s, magazines were common mass-circulated periodicals that appealed to a broader audience. They included illustrated serials aimed specifically at the female audience.

Time passed, and the cost of news gathering increased dramatically, as publications attempted to keep pace with what seemed to be a growing and insatiable appetite for printed news. Slowly, news agencies formed to take the place of independent publishers. They would hire people to gather and write news reports, and then sell these stories to a variety of individual news outlets. However, the print media was soon about to come head-to-head with an entirely new form of news gathering -- first, with the invention of the telegraph, then quickly followed by the radio, the television, and mass broadcasting. It was an evolution of technology that seemed all but inevitable.

Non-print media changed the dynamics of news gathering and reporting altogether. It sped up all aspects of the process, making the news, itself, more timely and relevant. Soon, technology became an integral part of journalism, even if the ultimate product was in print form. Today, satellites that transmit information from one side of the globe to another in seconds, and the Internet, as well, place breaking news in the hands of almost every person in the world at the same time. This has created a new model of journalism once again, and one that will likely be the standard for the future.

bottom of page